Sunday, June 8, 2008

Censures & Excommunications

I have heard in the past - as I'm sure have you - reports of elements from within several religious orders clashing with Vatican authorities over issues dealing with Church teachings and tradition. It has been the policy of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to counsel those individuals who publicly oppose or stray from Church teachings, and, after a series of initiatives, apply measures that may include defrocking and excommunication. Not all of those who were called heretics or prevaricators while alive retained those pejorative titles posthumously. After the death of some of these agitators, their names and standing were fully restored. Others, however, endured the penalty of excommunication.

Matthew Fox (Defrocked and ousted)
Matthew Fox was a former Dominican priest who received his religious education (all the way up to his PhD.) from Catholic institutions. In the 1970's he developed a type of spirituality called Creation Spirituality that was pantheistic in nature, and replaced the term "original sin" with "original blessing." He calls himself a feminist theologian, and is currently a member of the Anglican Church where he conducts "techno-masses." Read interview. Mathew Fox is no fan of Pope Benedict, since it was Cardinal Ratzinger who - as Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - tossed him out in 1993 for his heretical unorthodoxy. In 2005 Matthew Fox reenacted the famous protestation of Martin Luther when he nailed his own 95 Theses just outside the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. Fox has always maintained that his condemned views have always been in the tradition of the mysticism of medieval visionaries Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa.

Anthony de Mello, S.J. (Works condemned)
Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest born in Bombay, India in 1931. Ecumenicalism is the word that best describes the works of Father de Mello, unless of coarse you dislike his convictions, then "heretic" might be to your suiting. Father de Mello drew from many religious traditions, primarily from Eastern faiths, and combined tenets from those Eastern traditions with Christian beliefs. In 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned his works for “relativizing” faith and thus leading to “religious indifferentism.” The odd thing about this condemnation is that it came 11 years after de Mello's death, which means he had no way of defending himself from the charges that were brought against him. Father de Mello's books have since been accompanied with the insertion of a caution: “The books of Father Anthony de Mello were written in a multi-religious context to help the followers of other religions, agnostics and atheists in their spiritual search, and they were not intended by the author as manuals of instruction of the Catholic faithful in Christian doctrine or dogma.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Censured)
Born on May 1, 1881 Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit who was trained as a paleontologist and as a geologist. Always fascinated by the evolution of life on earth, Chardin proposed that human biological evolution not only had taken place here on earth, but that it was also something sacred and not just a mere biological process. Because of these assertions, he was forbidden to teach and his works censured by his superiors. To Chardin, life began on this planet with simple quotidian structures and over time complexified until the emergence of consciousness. Chardin also saw Jesus Christ as the most perfectly evolved human being. In Christ, he saw matter and the spirit of God definitively combined but not in a pantheistic context. He also did not subscribe completely to the doctrine of Original Sin. Chardin's censure was lifted posthumously, and his books an essays were subsequently published to the delight of many within the Catholic Church. In a speech given sometime in the late 1990's, even Pope John Paul II quoted from them.

Was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a bit heavy handed when dealing with these folks? Despite the wavering on Original Sin, Chardin's spirituality is profoundly beautiful and has enjoyed enthusiastic approbation among very conservative Catholics since their publication. Supporters of Anthony de Mello argue that his condemnation is completely unjustified since 1) they were never meant to be used as instructions of Church dogma or tradition, and 2) he is deceased and unable to defend himself from the accusations leveled against him by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Mathew Fox's "The Coming of the Cosmic Christ" was recommended to me by a Jesuit with traditional lineaments and in good standing with the Church. Although one must admit, Matthew Fox's views at times can be both whimsical and convoluted. He comes across as some one who is both unstable and angry over his removal. What to make of all this?

Now, here is a short list of the demented and the absurd who have been excommunicated in recent times. IMHO, no one can argue that this type of action was unmerited:

1) Sinéad O'Connor - Ordination in a schismatic church, the Palmarian Catholic Church.
2) Fidel Castro - Dictator; proponent of communism.
3) Sister Mary Theresa Dionne and five other nuns of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge in Hot Springs, Arkansas - Believe their founder is the reincarnated Virgin Mary.
4) Some members of the Irish Republican Army
5) Ed Cachia - Canadian priest. Started a new church.
6) Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre - Apposed Vatican II reform. Defied Pope John Paul II and consecrated four bishops.
7) Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo - A whole slew of crap.


Adrienne said...

Let's not forget Fr. Thomas Keating and Fr.M. Basil Pennington with their centering prayer nonsense. They have led many people astray.

I have a few of Chardin's books and IMHO the guy is a lunatic. Matthew Fox sounds like an aging hippie.

What none of them possess is obedience (sp?)

Tom in Vegas said...

Auntie A-

You really think Chardin is a lunatic? The problem with Chardin is that he used a lot of poetic language to convey his thoughts. Conditions like those culture misinterpretations.

I have heard a few things about Keating, but this is the first time I've heard of Pennington. That's too bad. Trappists are normally the best behaved out of all the religious orders.

Adrienne said...

We've just been "warned" by the Holy See to avoid this type of centering prayer as it is not compatible with Christian prayer. It is being promoted by many unsuspecting people.

Yes, I really think Chardin is a lunatic. I read The Phenomenon of Man which reminds me of how I felt reading Mein Kampf. It just goes in circles.

I think if we want to improve our spiritual life we should spend more time reading Jesus than someone elses interpretation of Jesus. Why not go to the source?

I have a basic mistrust of folks that try and make everything complicated.

Rita said...

Gosh, Auntie Adrienne talks such good common sense!

Then again, even the saints have written things that we don't have to believe in. For instance, Brigit of Sweden said that Our Lady didn't feel any pains during the birth of her Son. There is no dogma surrounding the birth of the Infant, so it is just speculation no matter how adamant the author is (that's not what makes her a great saint). Also, St Thomas Aquinas wrote at length against the Immaculate Conception although it has since been ratified as an eternal truth.

Personally I find the writings of Catherine Emmerich far scarier and possibly more dangerous than the three authors you mentioned above. Those guys are just academics who made noises which were too loud and too fashionable and they forgot the meaning of obedience. Read them, find some beauty in their writings if you can but don't go looking for insights into doctrine or dogma. That is what the popes are for, and they write more beautifully and with more love than any other theologians!

Melody said...

I think both good and bad can be found in the works of these authors, and maybe most writers on spiritual matters. They aren't claiming to be scripture; part of being an adult is learning to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I have the book by Basil Pennington on centering prayer, and it has some good things, but also has a basic flaw; that the "center" is to be found inside oneself, a kind of nothingness where supposedly one encounters God. Also have a couple of books by Anthony deMello; he writes well, but there are some things that are problematic.
I agree with Rita's comment that "...even the saints have written things that we don't have to believe in." Discernment is an ongoing process; we need to look critically at all that we read, take the good, and lay aside the bad.

Mark said...

Fr. Fox O.P. was excommunicated by the Master General of the Order of Preachers, not for any of his heretical writings, but for disobedience; oddly the same charge against Abp. Lefebvre.

de Chardin's theology overturns Christ's redemption entirely, and makes null the mission of Christ; he was also the fraud who perpetrated the "Piltdown Man" missing link in order to "prove" evolution. Although his work was total crap, he apparently was quite a charming fellow, and ended his days under the protection of none less than Abp. Fulton Sheen.

Tom in Vegas said...

Auntie A-

You are correct. Reading scripture is much closer to getting things from the horses mouth than through a secondary agent or third party. However, understanding the bible correctly does require formal scriptural training and hermeneutics. It's not an easy read if you want to understand what's been said accurately, intelligently, and historically. Hermeneutics is a fascinating subject. Without it, we are nothing more than doomed fundamentalists.

I still disagree with you on Chardin:0( I think his writings are quite profound with scattered instances of beautiful spirituality. I think his poetic language can be widely misunderstood.


I once read that St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the soul entered the human body at birth and NOT at the moment of conception. Now, if the Church accepted that assertion from someone of his intellectual stature, don’t you think he might become the patron saint of all abortionists? Remember that he is a Doctor of the Church and still fundamentally flawed in his assertion.


I agree with you, too. Both good things and things that are utter nonsense came come from the authors I’ve singled out. I must admit to you that I’m not an admirer of Matthew Fox. I’d much rather accept the wisdom of a religion different than mine, and somehow synthesize it into my own tradition than subscribe to diluted Catholicism. Matthew Fox seems a little to “new age” for my taste (not to mention angry over his removal, although the image I have of him doesn’t seem to show any obvious signs of misanthropy).

Tom in Vegas said...


Father Jude Eli, O.P. briefed me some years ago as to the circumstances leading to the removal of M.Fox. The "disobedience" factor came in his refusal to STOP perpetuating his pantheistic crap, among other theologically unsound statements he made publicly.

I have read about the "Piltdown Man" fabrication. In a documentary I saw not too long ago the most likely suspects were Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dawson. There are no antecedents in the life of Chardin where his comportment was anything like a shyster or a cheat. And while Chardin’s scientific conclusions are indeed flawed, my focus has never been te validation or invalidation of his theories. Instead, I focus on the religious affirmations one can extract from them. These speak volumes of Chardin’ impassioned commitment to Christ, and his unswerving belief in his Divinity.

Adrienne said...

All of you have very good and valid points.

The problems with the books on centering prayer is that they are being taught in Catholic Churches.

An educated Catholic can sift through and find whatever truth there is to be found.

I've read all of Keating and Pennington's books. On the surface they appear ok but it doesn't take much digging to hit the coal. The Holy See has spoken most emphatically against this form of centering prayer. Good enough for me.

The saints did as well as they could for the knowledge they had at the time. It is sometimes through science (your thing, Tom) we are able to expand our spiritual life. Aquinas would have probably have had different views if he were alive today.

Adrienne said...

Rita and Melody - you both get my vote for best comments.

paramedicgirl said...

Tom, I need you over at my blog...

Jennifer said...

Was that priest with Our Lady of Fatima ex communicated?
I find conflicting reports about it. Do you know for sure?

Esther said...

Very interesting post Tom. I've seen your comments over at Tracy's and at Adrienne's. Glad to have found your blog. BTW, I did read something about Fr. Basil P. but didn't know for sure.

Anonymous said...

the censure and ban on Teilhard's works continues to this day. Mostly for his craziness regarding original sin but for other reasons as well

the Jesuits would like everyone to think that his books/ideas have now been restored to grace but in, fact, the edict condemning them from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1962 still stands.

even Satan can wax lyrical and come up with some beautiful notions as a else would he suck us in?

there is nothing wrong with the notion of evolution, if one admits that God himself controls is his other notions, including that of a "unified consciousness" that present theological problems.

did de Chardin love Christ?
possibly. But sometimes one must concede that loving and serving Christ requires OBEDIENCE. And when you continue to circulate bizarre and condemned ideas even after you signed on the line retracting your belief in those things,(which he did) then you are hardly obedient.

and as for the Jesuits mounting a post-humous campaign for him by continuing to circulate his books even after the Holy See banned them in 1962, well, that isn't too swell either.

even good people, well-intentioned people sometimes are better off keeping their mouths shut if the ideas they have are a scandal to the faithful. Which his are.

so, was he a good guy? (apart from his odd works)
mmm....I dunno...jury's out for me.

that's my cheap nickel's worth! hahaha....

Tom in Vegas said...


Your comments - as always - are intelligent, insightful, and difficult to rebuff:) However, I find the heathenish characterization of Chardin by some who posted comments on this topic somewhat misleading and truncated.

As a matter of fact, I think the bellicose attitude towards his works are fundamentally over semantics instead of lofty, theological assertions.

Thanks for stopping by:0)

Bro. Alan said...

There are no paths that lead to God, for He is everywhere...


God will follow any path to find and gather his children....

well, at least God as I know and experience him will...

Bro. Alan
Capuchin-Franciscan Friar